Two times. In a global perspective not even a hint of trouble. In my own perspective it might mean I could never swing a bat and run or throw a pitch. Personally? Nice words are devastating. Facing the end of a baseball career. Larger than that, look up zilch in the dictionary.
First, summer, August of 1961. I pitched and played right field—not at the same time, mind you!—for Showboat Lounge. Yep, a bar and brew place in Beaverton, Oregon. It was a semi-professional baseball team. Rules were each team could have a max of 5 players who’d played professional baseball. We had 5 and they were good.
We played at Skavone Field just south of Portland, neighboring Milwaukie. It was the last game before we began tournament play, the goal to reach Battle Creek, Michigan in the National Semi-Professional World Series. I know: so what? Well, it was a “so what” to us on the teams and our families…and even made some headlines in the Oregonian.
Believe it was a Tuesday night. I pitched, the game was scoreless, 5th inning. Our first batter hit a single. I came up next. Was signaled by our coach, Milo Meskel [God rest his soul.] to sacrifice. I did. Maybe the best bunt of my career…it hugged the first base line, the first baseman came in to field. In a flash—no time to marinate options—I figured if I stopped quickly and headed back to home plate, the first baseman would come to tag me…and walla!—the runner would get to third base.
I should have marinated, because when I stopped, my right knee snapped and I crumbled on the first base line. I needed help off the field, was taken to Emmanuel Hospital and diagnosed with a torn cartilage in the right knee. Now, realize this was 1961, well before arthroscopy. Remember the orthopedic surgeons, Hopkins and Davis. The cartilage was jammed in the knee joint, so I was put on traction for 4 days. Yes, 1961, okay? Finally, the surgery.
During all that time Showboat Lounge won and won and won. And, oh my, they ended up winning the World Series in Battle Creek. I won the self-pity award hobbled on crutches. With no knowledge if I’d ever play again.
But, healing happened and it was on to my senior university year, and was able to pitch. No, I wasn’t even close to our best pitcher [Jim Lonborg wore that hat—went on to pitch the Boston Red Sox into a World Series championship.] However, think Jim had a sore shoulder so Coach Fehring asked me to pitch on Tuesday [why do all these “events” happen on Tuesday?], so I’d be ready to pitch the opening league game the next Saturday against UCLA at their field.
The third inning against, I think, Santa Clara, at Stanford, their pitcher was up. This was before Designated Hitter. I had a 3-2 count on him and he fouled about 3 pitches. I was ticked off; so was Bob Overman our catcher. So he gave me “the best fast ball signal,” which was an inverted one-finger sign. I huffed and puffed and threw as fast as I could. STRIKE THREE!
I came to the bench—hadn’t heard anything snap—but then realized my left arm was numb…totally dead. I wasn’t a right-hander. I said nothing, thinking it wasn’t anything serious.
Went out for the 4th inning, warmed up. Reality is the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate is 60’ six”. The ball didn’t go twenty feet. I was done. Really done. Was diagnosed as having torn a nerve sheath in my left arm. On the disabled list for my senior year.
That could have been it. But, I wasn’t smart enough to know that.
Summer of 1962 arrived, had graduated from the university and was headed to New Haven for seminary that next September.
Milo Meskel called me, “Mark, most of our team is back together, please join up with us. We’ll play for Archer Blower and Pipe…same details…our goal is Battle Creek.”
I didn’t tell him I had been on injured reserve. Knew I couldn’t pitch, but that, somehow didn’t mess up my swing. Welcome to Archer Blower & Pipe. Would be my last season. Chose not to sign a contract with either the Pirates or the Dodgers—seminary was the focus.
Played right field and was surprised…no, mostly pleased…that I actually threw a runner out after catching a fly ball. Well, well, well. The arm wasn’t numb. About two weeks later our starting pitcher couldn’t make the game, so Milo asked me to pitch. I hadn’t thrown 60’ 6” for months, but the warm-up seemed to go well. Welcome back to the pitcher’s mound, Mark!!!
My mother told me [she and my father came to every game at Skavone Field] that she almost fainted when she saw me warm-up. She didn’t.
The game went well, the curve ball somehow snapped and the low outside corner fast ball returned [not too hard] and the slider, my “get ‘em out” pitch behaved just fine.
The rest, they say, is history. We went on to Battle Creek, and of all things, I got to pitch the semi-final game. The only question was, although it was more of amusement than concern, what the religion was of the home plate umpire. Reason? Well, before the game the umpire asked Milo, “Say, is that left-hander starting for you, going to a seminary at Yale after the game?” Milo confirmed that. The umpire, then said, “Well, this will be interesting; the pitcher for the Marietta, George team is a Southern Baptist Preacher.”
Damn. All I could hope is that umpire wasn’t Southern Baptist!
And. Of all things, no numbness, no bad knee, the championship trophy ended up in our hands.
Well, all this on a Friday morning. Not sure why, but I have had a wonderful time writing this…I look up and a baseball from that game against Marietta, Georgia is still holding its own. And. I hope I am, too, no matter what happens in this new day, numb arm or not.
Thanks. Lots of thanks…for finishing this part of my game.
Even want to share a picture of decades gone by—